In J.M. Erickson’s debut novel entitled Albatross: Birds of Flight he told the story of Alex Burns, a former federal agent—and killing machine—who, following a serious head injury, underwent an extreme form of psychoanalysis; through which he came to experience human emotions hitherto unknown to him. It was a “recovery” that spelled disaster for the United States Government, which feared that the new, compassionate Burns would disclose damnatory information regarding its involvement in illegal missions. By the end of the novel Burns and his small team of civilians (turned soldiers) manage to double-cross the government and escape capture and death. Yet they are by no means free to live normal lives. In the sequel story, Raven: Birds of Flight, Burns and his team of specially trained friends fight to gain their freedom—and loose themselves from the government’s grip—once and for all. The narrative begins with a flashback to a time when Burns was working for the Foreign Intelligence Agency. Then the author skips ahead in time, introducing the readers to Marine Officer Diane Welch: who is in Pakistan attempting to protect civilians and her men from insurgents and (ironically) her commanding officer. In a demonstration of negligence and narcissism, FIA Commander James Webber signals for an entire village to be wiped out in a drone attack; reasoning that American victory is more valuable than a few innocent victims. After witnessing this gratuitous murder of Marines and Pakistanis—and the extent of Webber’s callous cruelty—Diane Welch is devastated: vowing to one day ‘right this wrong’ and exact vengeance on the loathsome commander. After setting the stage with these initial stories, the author reintroduces the star characters of the Albatross novel. Alexander Burns (now working with his civilian unit) has agreed to provide the government with the second of three hard disc-drives containing classified military material. By willingly returning this drive, which he has used as leverage against the government—thereby preserving his life and the lives of his friends—Burns is demonstrating his desire to put an end to his life on the run and his reputation as an “enemy of the state.” At this point in the narrative we witness a botched operation; and watch as this ‘good-will’ exchange is undermined by the unannounced presence of Webber and his Foreign Intelligence Agency unit. By page ninety of the novel, Commander James Webber has managed to sabotage two separate military operations, ‘stepping on the feet’ of other government agencies and causing unnecessary casualties: including the death of Burn’s beloved girlfriend Samantha Littleton. As a result of his reckless actions, Webber has also made two very dangerous enemies: Diane Welch and Alexander Burns. Flooding the internet with classified government data, Alexander Burns unleashes the dogs of war, committed to avenging the death of his lost soldier (and closest companion) and securing the safety of his remaining team members. Following the novel Albatross: Birds of Flight, I anticipated the continuing story of Burns and his team. Alex’s psychological development, and his burgeoning relationship with Samantha—professional call girl/nurse turned trained assassin—promised to be an enriching relationship, and an essential part of the sequel. For this reason I was somewhat disorientated for the first few chapters of the novel, wondering why the author was delving into Burn’s past missions as a federal agent or introducing an entirely new story (with Diane Welch). In my mind these were unnecessary complications and deviations from the strong storyline of the first book. Finally, with the emergence of Burns and his team (on page forty-eight) I was able to find the thread tying these preliminary stories to the characters—and plot—established in the original novel. Once underway, despite my initial sense of disappointment (due perhaps to personal expectations), Raven: Birds of Flight proved to be an exhilarating thrill-ride filled with exciting action scenes and dramatic plot developments. The literary suggestiveness of ‘the raven’—dark harbinger of death, and also Celtic symbol of inspiration for soldiers fallen in battle—is exemplified in the female agents of the novel: each of which secretly empathizes and identifies with Alexander Burns and his cause; as they, at the same time, work in unison to prevent him from doing any more damage to the American government. As in the first work, J.M. Erickson’s writing style is exact and linguistically flawless. The author also does an amazing job of crafting believable, witty dialogue. In addition, he subtly builds the suspense to a breaking point, creating a climactic scene that is both aesthetically rewarding and realistic. With the conclusion of the novel, questions are left unanswered; which the author will address in the next section of this entertaining saga.
Christopher Ackerman Independent Professional Book Reviewers www.bookreviewers.org